Why aren't women on wheels?
by Mary Brown
Survey says: "Cars!"
The number one reason that women don't ride bikes is... CARS! Not that cars are so much easier, but rather, women said they don't feel safe sharing the road with them. A full 80% of respondents didn't, according to our recently completed Low-Income Women and Bicycling Survey Project. Also, 63% said they would consider riding a bicycle if there were bike lanes in their neighborhood.
The survey found that only 12% of low-income women owned a car, yet 34% owned a bicycle! While 35% said the commute would be too far on a bicycle, more 65% actually lived within riding distance (10 miles or less roundtrip). It's interesting to note that although the 39-question survey was developed primarily to uncover low-income women's barriers to bicycling, it revealed more similarities with women of all incomes than differences.
We've always made some pretty random guesses as to why so few women biked, so with the support of a Women's Foundation grant and the help of David Binder Research we developed the first ever transportation research study focusing on women and bicycles. SFBC volunteers surveyed 416 random women for this field intercept survey with the goal of finding out why women ride bikes at far lower rates than men.
Bicycles are, potentially, an efficient and economical transportation choice for all people, regardless of class, race, income, and gender. However, the reality is that bicyclists on the streets of San Francisco are predominately white men in their 20s-40s. Approximately 4% of San Franciscans (about 30,000 people) commute to work and errands on bicycles, and of that number, less than 25% are women.
We want more women to utilize the bicycle as a convenient, cost-effective transportation choice and to discover how fun and easy it can be to bike. With the upcoming Bike Plan Update kick-off just a week away, we are in a prime position to advocate for the transportation needs of low income women. The results of this survey are now a base for our strategic planning and efforts to shape public policy.
The most exciting part about the survey results are similarities between respondents' top barriers to bicycling and the SFBC's own current programmatic goals and the myriad of opportunities this presents. We are actively working to create a bike network that would link all neighborhoods and commercial centers via protected space for bicycles, separate from most car traffic. Our goal of a combination of bike paths, bike lanes, and slow, traffic-calmed streets would help women overcome their fear of sharing the road with cars.
The SFBC recently applied for an additional grant from the Women's Foundation to develop a campaign to increase bicycle use among low-income women. One component of this campaign would be the development of an information booklet addressing the practical concerns of women about cycling. These booklets would be based directly on information gathered from the survey. Such as,
- where to buy low-cost bicycles (63% of respondents said they would consider riding if they had access to a free or low-cost bicycle);
- how to transport children or groceries on bikes (37% of respondents did not agree that it was possible to transport children or groceries on a bike),
- how to use the bike racks available on all regional buses (35% of respondents said they commute too far to work to use a bicycle);
- how to correctly lock a bike and avoid theft (62% of respondents stated their perception that bicycles frequently are stolen),
- where to find bike maps that show the best streets for bikes (66% of respondents said it was too hard to ride a bike due to the hills);
- how to avoid getting sweaty or dirty (38% believed they did not have the right clothing to ride a bike and 28% thought bicycling would make them too sweaty) ;
- what kinds of rain gear protect best for foul weather riding (34% though the weather is too unpredictable to ride in).
The survey focused on the Mission, Bayview, and Western Addition neighborhoods. For more information or to get involved with next stage of the campaign contact Leah Shahum at 415/431-BIKE x306.